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Bryan Marcel: Calorie Counting, The Math Does Not Add Up

Sometimes to prove a point you have to take the example to its logical extreme. Calorie counting is one such example. I don't believe that calories are the end all in weight gain or loss. I have shown...

Sometimes to prove a point you have to take the example to its logical extreme. Calorie counting is one such example. I don't believe that calories are the end all in weight gain or loss. I have shown in other posts that the quality of the calories is far more important that the quantity.  For example, a 1.5 ounce bag of potato chips and a 20 ounce soda contains about 500 calories. Assuming that calories are all that matters, then your body would process this meal in the exactly the same way as it does a tilapia fish fillet and a serving of green beans topped with butter (Yes, butter. You need fat in your diet to process certain nutrients.) and a glass of lightly sweetened tea.  Both contain roughly the same calories, but the first will make you fat and the second will not.  Some will respond that the reason the chips and soda will make you fat is because the potato chips have a lot of fat in them.  Okay then.  Let’s substitute the potato chips for baked potato chips. Very low fat, but you will still get fat.  It’s not the calories.  It’s not the fat.  It is the low quality simple sugars and starches that spike your insulin causing your body to store the excess sugar and starch as fat.  So let’s go back to the calorie counting model.

Common knowledge teaches that if you want to lose weight then you should reduce your caloric intake by 500 calories a day. The premise is that 500 calories a day multiplied by 7 days in the week is 3500 calories, or one pound. So, I weigh 158 pounds.  If I were to reduce my caloric intake I would first have to figure out what my daily caloric intake is, since I have no idea. Then, I would reduce it by 500 calories every day.  In a week I would be one pound lighter.  In a year I would be 52 pounds lighter.  And in three years and two weeks I would cease to exist because I would weight nothing.  Zero.  Does this make any sense?  No.  Your body does not adhere to the laws of thermodynamics.  If it did then weighing zero would be an option.  It is not as simple as fuel in, fuel out.  It's the type of fuel.  Let's do another example.

Today’s headlines (29 January 2009) touted a study by Pooja Tandon, MD, titled “Nutrition Menu Labeling May Lead to Lower Calorie Restaurant Meal Choices for Children”.  The premise was two groups of parents ordering fast food for their children. One group has the nutrition information readily available and the other group does not.  Dr. Tandon found that the group that had the nutrition information available ordered fast food meals containing on average 102 calories less than the group that had no such nutrition information.  He then draws the conclusion about its significance by stating, “Just an extra 100 calories per day may equate to about ten pounds of weight gain per year”.  Notice that he said it “may”, meaning that it also may not.  But if calories are the absolute indicator of weight gain or loss shouldn't he have said “will” instead of “may”?  It sounds like he isn't convinced.  But let's look at his math.  Here is how he came to his conclusion. 100 calories per day multiplied by 356 days in the year equals 36,500 calories.  Divide 36,500 calories by 3500 and you get 10.428 pounds of weight gain per year.  Let's take this example to its logical extreme.  I am 42 years old and I still weight 158 pounds.  If I increase my daily caloric intake every day by 100 calories, then every year I will gain 10 pounds.  So in a year I will weigh 168 pounds.  Ten years from now I would weigh 258 pounds. Twenty years from now 358 pounds. Thirty years from now 458 pounds and if I live to be 82 years old I would weigh 558 pounds. Really?  I don't think so.

The math sounds good. It's easy to teach, but the numbers are simply false and misleading.  The constant reiteration about calories is disingenuous and points people in the wrong direction, thus setting them up for failure.  AgainComputer Technology Articles, it isn’t the calories.  It’s the type of calories.

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I am a Certified Personal Trainer and an avid health researcher as an average ordinary guy. Up until a few years ago I also looked like an average ordinary guy.  I had the belly.  So, I set out to lose twenty pounds and like the majority of people I found that the most accepted advice was worthless.  I I came to the conclusion that almost everything that we have been taught about health and nutrition is pretty much wrong.  I then set out to find the correct facts. I persevered in this search and discovered much.  I then applied (to myself) what I had discovered.  Since then I have lost thirty pounds, three and a half inches from my waist and no longer need four prescription medications.  I have learned so much about health and nutrition and I want to share it with the world.

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